State Sen. Janet Howell (D), who represents the westernmost part of Arlington as well as a large chunk of Fairfax County, called the state’s budget outlook “bleak” while praising Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget, which closes the projected shortfall through a series of tax changes and spending cuts. However, Howell and other Democrats say the budget doesn’t go far enough in improving the state’s K-12 education system.
“Fortunately, the Governor’s budget closes the budget gap. His budget is balanced,” Howell said in a newsletter to her constituents. “What we do not have, however, is any real ability to make investments in public education, higher education, human services, or workforce development.
“Direct aid to public education has been spared additional state cuts,” she continued. “However, unless we have a sudden, unexpected upswing in our economy, we will have to jettison a proposed and deserved salary increase. For context, in terms of per pupil general funds for public education, by FY 2016 we will be just back to FY 2008 levels on a statewide basis.”
This past summer, McAuliffe announced Virginia was projected to have a $2.4 billion budget shortfall over the next two years. Much of that deficit, Howell said at a recent Arlington Democrats meeting, can be traced back to cuts from the federal budget sequestration and the layoffs at government contractors it prompted.
Additional revenue growth has since reduced the deficit, and cuts to the state prison system and elsewhere have saved millions. Del. Patrick Hope (D) says the closing of tax loopholes for some corporations — most notably coal producers — are necessary to even preserve the current level of education funding.
“There are a lot of companies in Virgina that don’t pay any taxes,” Hope told ARLnow.com yesterday. “We’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars that Virginia gives out every year to companies for job creation, and research is coming out that that’s not happening today. We need to take a hard look at what those tax credits are, and if they’re not doing what the intended purposes are, we need to pull it back.”
Hope said a state yacht tax credit should also be stripped — “I can’t look my voters in the eye if I vote for a budget” that includes that tax credit, he said — but said that the budget should become more ambitious in terms of education spending. Funding K-12 education millions of dollars less than before the recession, without accounting for inflation, isn’t enough, he said.
“There’s no reason why spending shouldn’t go in the opposite direction,” he said. “We are out of the recession now, it’s time to fill those holes back up.”
Although some form of a balanced budget is expected to pass — which may include cuts to education, according to Hope, if the Republican-controlled General Assembly balks at the loophole cuts — Howell said the realities of the budget situation don’t figure to change anytime soon, especially after the sequester’s cuts to federal defense spending.
“Growth has halted or declined in the good-paying ($77k+/year) jobs in the ‘business and professional services’ categories. Instead, we are seeing more growth in lower-paying jobs, such as health, leisure and hospitality ($45k/year on average),” Howell wrote. “Unfortunately, no one believes this situation is a temporary one.”
The three state senators and four delegates that represent Arlington in the Virginia General Assembly have sent a letter to state Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne in support of the Columbia Pike streetcar project.
The letter calls out County Board members Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt for their continued opposition to the project. On Friday, Garvey laid out alternative uses for the hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local transportation funding that are being directed toward the streetcar.
“We strongly disagree with the efforts of Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt to deprive Arlington of those state funds dedicated to the streetcar project,” the letter states.
The letter also cites the return on investment study the county funded that predicted more than $3 billion in economic impact in the first 30 years of the streetcar system. It refers to the support the streetcar has already received from state officials, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The letter was signed by state Sens. Janet Howell, Adam Ebbin and Barbara Favola and Dels. Alfonso Lopez, Patrick Hope, Rob Krupicka and Rip Sullivan.
The full letter is posted, after the jump. (more…)
Bill Would Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving in School Zones — Sen. Janet Howell (D) has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving in a school zone or school crossing zone. Violations will be considered a traffic infraction and will be punishable by a fine of up to $250. [Richmond Sunlight]
Brink Supports Two-Term Va. Governor — Del. Bob Brink (D) of Arlington is one of several General Assembly lawmakers to introduce or patron a constitutional amendment that would allow the governor of Virginia to serve a second term. If passed, the amendment will take effect for the governor elected in 2017. [Richmond Sunlight]
USS Arlington Crew Members Get Decal Vote — Crew members of the USS Arlington, set to be commissioned soon, will get a vote on the new Arlington County parking decal. This year, the contest challenged entrants to design a decal incorporating the USS Arlington. Voting is open through Jan. 21. [Sun Gazette]
Civic Federation Supports LEAP — The Arlington County Civic Federation has approved a resolution to promote the non-profit Local Energy Alliance Program, or LEAP, which offers free home energy efficiency assessments to homeowners, along with cash rebates for energy efficiency measures. [Arlington Mercury]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
The surcharge expired on Jan. 1, 2012 after Del. Tim Hugo (R), of Fairfax County, blocked a renewal bill in retaliation for Arlington’s lawsuit against high occupancy toll lanes on I-395. The Hotel General Managers’ Committee of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce has been calling for the Virginia General Assembly to reestablish the taxing authority, which brought in nearly $1 million per year to fund tourism promotion efforts.
A bill proposed by Howell today would allow Arlington County to reinstate the tax surcharge on hotel rooms, and extends the taxing authority in perpetuity. The bill has been referred to the state Senate’s Committee on Finance.
Arlington Office Vacancies Up — Arlington and Alexandria were the only two D.C. area markets that saw a significant increase in office vacancies in 2011, according to recently-released data. Arlington, which had the lowest office vacancy rate at the end of 2010, ended 2011 with the same vacancy rate as the District of Columbia. The loss of government office tenants as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act is said to be to blame for the rise in vacancies. [Washington Post]
Howell Tries to Insert Viagra Provision Into Abortion Bill — State Sen. Janet Howell (D), who represents part of Arlington, tried to insert a bit of “gender equity” into a bill being considered by the Virginia Senate. The bill, SB484, would require that a woman seeking an abortion be offered the opportunity to view an ultrasound image of her fetus. Howell’s amendment, which was narrowly defeated along party lines yesterdsay, would have required men to receive a “digital rectal exam and cardiac stress test” before receiving a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication. [Blue Virginia]
Eleventh Street Lounge Closes — Eleventh Street Lounge in Clarendon closed up shop over the weekend to make way for a new office development. The restaurant’s management is reportedly hoping to relocate to a new space, at least temporarily. [Clarendon Nights]
Marine Beaten in Crystal City — Updated at 9:00 a.m. — NBC4 is revealing new details about a malicious wounding incident reported in last week’s Arlington County crime report. A Marine who lost a leg in Afghanistan and who’s up for a Silver Star medal was severely beaten with a club outside the 7-Eleven on 23rd Street in Crystal City. The attack, which was caught on surveillance video, may have been precipitated by a racial comment. [NBC Washington]
Photo courtesy Dan Gifford